Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 4/2018

5 05 2018

Construction continues on the Canopy, but the plans are in a state of modest flux. The fiber cement panels were changed to a different manufacturer, which uses a different paint supplier. The original Cem5 fiber cement panels use Swiss Pearl paints, while the revision proposes Nichiha panels using PPG paints. The replacement colors are very similar.

However, the dull yellow “Applesauce Cake” accent panels (itself a replacement for Cem5 “Carat Topaz”), was rejected by Canopy. The replacement color, a charcoal grey “Dark Ash”, was disliked by the board, so the project team is still trying to determine a suitable color replacement with enough to get the order filed with the manufacturer without delaying the construction timeline. I wonder if, given the orange Canopy logo and branding, if a soft “rustic” orange shade might be available? The thought being that it would tell visitors quickly that this building is a Hilton Canopy, and a warm, subtle shade would brighten the facade without being obnoxious. From what I see, one can custom order panels, which is no doubt more expensive, but I’m not seeing a list of standard colors anywhere.

While excavating, the project team did find some small fragments of the Strand Theater, which stood on the site until its demolition in 1993. The “most decorative” pieces are going to be used in a display inside the hotel lobby, and further consideration is being made for an exterior mural.

The landscaping is being tweaked to extend a sidewalk through the property to Seneca Way, as well as a curb-cut and smaller planters to fit within the property line. A pair of ginkgo trees planned for the property are being replaced with some dense shrubs and perennial instead. This is the eleventh version of the project I now have on file. Background info and specifications can be found here.

The hotel has completed foundation work and is up to the second floor. The steel skeleton and elevator cores/stairwells continue to rise, with thinner exterior steel stud walls on the ground floor and fireproof gypsum panels on the second floor. The finished product should be coming onto the market in about a year.

 





News Tidbits 4/7/18: A Day Late and A Dollar Short

7 04 2018

1. It appears the Sleep Inn hotel is moving forward. Building permits for the 37,000 SF, 70 room hotel at 635 Elmira Road were issued by the town of Ithaca on March 23rd. According to the town’s documentation, the project cost is $4.1 million, though it’s not 100% clear if that’s hard costs (materials/labor) and soft costs (legal/engineering/design work), or just hard costs alone.

The Sleep Inn project was first introduced in Spring 2016, and underwent substantial aesthetic revisions to a more detail, rustic appearance. Even then, the project was barely approved by the Planning Board, which had concerns about its height, relatively small lot size and proximity to the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area. The hotel’s developer, Pratik Ahir of Ahir Hotels, co-owns the Rodeway Inn further down Elmira Road. Both the Rodeway and Sleep Inn are Choice Hotels brands, so although the Sleep Inn brand is new to the area (and uncommon in upstate New York), it’s not as unusual as it seems. Given the size, a 12-month buildout seems reasonable. Look for updates as the project gets underway.

2. In a similar vein, the gut renovation and expansion at 1020 Craft Road now has a building loan on file – $1.88 million as of April 3rd, courtesy of Elmira Savings Bank. The existing 10,500 SF industrial building has been gutted down to the support beams, and will be fully rebuilt with an additional 4,400 SF of space. The project is being developed and built by Marchuska Brothers Construction of Binghamton. According to the village of Lansing and the developer, the project will be occupied by multiple medical tenants.

3. The problem with tight publishing deadlines is that if a quote doesn’t arrive in time, you can either put it in afterward as an updated statement, or it gets left out. So on the heels of the report that Visum Development Group is upstate New York’s fastest growing company in terms of revenue (Inc.com’s guidelines were three-year period 2014-16 and at least $100,000 in revenue to start), I wanted to share this for those who might have missed the article update. The statement comes courtesy of Todd Fox, who was asked for comment and responded the following day.

“I would love to acknowledge the Visum team because without them I would never be able to accomplish what I am doing. I’m blessed to have the most passionate and talented people I have ever met. Chris Petrillose is my longest running team member and is the backbone of operations. I also want to acknowledge Patrick Braga, Matt Tallarico, Marissa Vivenzio, and Piotr Nowakowski. They are all rock stars and deserve so much of the credit for our success!

We are currently looking to expand into several new markets, which are as far south as Sarasota Florida and as far west as Boise Idaho. For the Ithaca market, we are essentially hitting the breaks on student housing for Cornell, as we beginning to experience some softening in the market. Our new focus is on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals. We actually have multiple properties under contract and plan to bring about 1,000 to 2,000 new beds online over the next several years.”
Note the last parts. The market for student housing if softening. Visum will focus on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals, things Ithaca could use more of, and 1,000 to 2,000 beds would certainly make a dent in the housing deficit. Of course, proof is in the pudding, so we’ll see what happens over the next several years.

4. The town of Ithaca was less than pleased about Maplewood’s request to extend indoor working hours until 10:30 PM. Labor, weather and building supply (wood frame) issues were cited as reasons for the needed extension. The Ithaca Times’ Matt Butler, who was at the meeting, provided this quote:

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Yikes. The “happy medium” the board finally gave in to was construction until 9 PM on buildings interior to the project site, away from the main roads. The tradeoff is that EdR and Cornell now expect to not have some of the later structures ready until August 20th, practically move-in day for all of Cornell’s on-campus undergrads.

5. Readers of the Voice and Times will know that the county is pursuing some of the $3.3 billion in federal dollars earmarked but not yet disbursed for opioid crisis treatment. While a temporary addiction facility is being prepared, there are plans in the works to open a detox and stabilization facility in Tompkins County. Unfortunately, it needs much more funding to move forward. The new facility will cost $11 million to build and make operational, and so far about $1 million has been received so far in grants.

For the purpose of this blog, I asked about the design beside Angela Sullivan and Senator Schumer – it is a conceptual design for demonstrative purposes, and a location for a new facility has not yet been fully determined. However, they intend to send a press release once a site has been selected.

By the way, the green logo at lower right is a giveaway on the architect – that would be Ithaca’s HOLT Architects, who are specialists in healthcare facilities.

6. New to the market this week, “Clockworks Plaza” at 402 Third Street in the city of Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 12,821 SF building was one of the few sizable buildings built in Ithaca in the 1990s (1993, to be exact), and is on the market for $2.6 million. The current owner, masked by an LLC, bought the property for $1.5 million in April 2016, the same value for which it is assessed.

That came up on the blog here. The buyer was Steven Wells of suburban Boston, who purchased the property in a buying spree that also included 508 West State Street (former Felicia’s, empty at the time) and 622 Cascadilla Street. 508 West State is now rented by Franco’s Pizzeria. Zaza’s still occupies 622 Cascadilla.

As I wrote at the time of sale:

“They all have different owners, and they’re in varying physical conditions. The only thing that unites these three properties is all that are in areas the city as ripe for redevelopment for urban mixed-use in the Comprehensive Plan. Felicia’s was upzoned in June 2013 to CBD-60, permitting a 60-foot tall building, no parking required. 622 Cascadilla is WEDZ-1a, allowing for five floors and no off-street parking requirement. Lastly, 402-410 Third Street is B-4, 40′ max and 50% lot coverage, but allows virtually any kind of business outside of adult entertainment. Those are some of the city’s more accommodating zoning types, so we’ll see what happens moving forward. At the very least, the public relations game will be starting from behind the proverbial eight ball.”

The reason why the public relations game was ‘behind the eight ball’? He was the guy who sold 602 West State Street and adjacent low-income housing properties to Elmira Savings Bank. There were accusations that the transaction between Wells and the bank was poorly handled, with claims that the lease terms of existing tenants were changed improperly, and tenants not being told their homes were being sold. It’s not clear it that’s accurate, because no one would share their documents to prove their claims. But what is clear is that this created a nightmare situation.

 

7. It looks likely fewer people will be living in City Centre than first intended. The initial 192-unit mix was 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms and 53 two-bedrooms. The newly-proposed mix is 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. It also appears the retail space has been reconfigured from four spaces to three, though the overall square footage appears to be about the same. There are some minor exterior changes proposed as well; paver colors, lighting, the types of metal panel used (Alucoil to Overly Dimension XP and Larson ACM panels), landscaping, and exterior vents. Assuming the PDF is accurate, the panel change is slight, but gives the building a slightly darker grey facade. Some of these changes are in response to code and safety discussions, others are likely value engineering.

8. From the city’s project memo, we see Greenstar’s new store (which is going into the Voice) and a pair of new if small projects.

The first is that it appears Benderson is expanding South Meadow Square again. Along with the pair of endcap additions underway, the Buffalo-based retail giant is looking to add a 3,200 SF addition to the west endcap of one of its smaller retail strings. The addition is on the Chipotle/CoreLife strip, next to Firehouse Subs. The dumpster enclosure currently on-site will be relocated to the Panera strip across the road to make room for the building, which will be flush to the sidewalk with…a blank wall. Seems like a bit of a missed opportunity there. The 35′ x 92′ addition has no announced tenant, though 3,200 SF is reasonable for a smaller restaurant or retail space (Chipotle is 2,400 SF, for instance, and Panera 4,100 SF; the stores in this particular retail strip, which includes a vitamin store, tanning salon and barber shop, are in the range of 1,380-4,089 SF). The total project cost is only $132,000, and no construction period is given in the Site Plan Review document.

The second is a “pocket neighborhood” in Northside. Barken Family Realty of Ithaca is planning to renovate two existing homes at 207 and 209 First Street, and add a new 2,566 SF two-family home behind the properties. They would be set up as a “pocket neighborhood”, consolidated into a single tax parcel with a common area, picnic tables and raised plant beds. The fence would be repaired and the gravel driveways improved. No demolition is planned, but five mature trees would come down to make way for the new home (6-8 new trees will be planted).

Hamel Architects of Aurora designed the new duplex, which is intended to quietly fit into the neighborhood context. Each unit will be two bedrooms. The $265,000 project would be built from October 2018 to March 2019.

9. We’ll finish this week with a potential new build. The above project was first showcased on STREAM Collaborative’s Instagram at an early stage. It is a 3.5 story, 11,526 SF building with 10 units (6 one-bedroom, 4 two-bedroom), and the two one-bedrooms on the first floor are live-work spaces – the front entrances are workspaces for home businesses. It is proposed along West Seneca Street, and only the south side of West Seneca allowed for mixed-uses like live/work spaces. Materials look to be Hardie Board fiber cement lap siding and trim. The design is influenced by other structures along West Seneca, and a bit from STREAM architect Noah Demarest’s time with Union Studio in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked before setting up his own practice back in Ithaca – there are similarities between here and Union Studio’s Capitol Square mixed-use design in Providence.

The project actually was sent with its name and title, but fingers crossed, it will be part of a bigger article.

 

 

 





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 2/2018

24 02 2018

The concrete elevator core and stairwells are on the rise at the Hilton Canopy site on Seneca Way. The center one is the elevator core, the two adjacent to the foundation walls are stair columns. The foundation walls aren’t fully complete yet, forms are in place for future pours towards the southwest corner of the building’s footprint. But all in all, moving along fairly well, and the start of steel structural framing is probably not too far off.

Fun side note, it appears the Canopy brand has a dog-friendly policy. Convenient for the visitor with a four-legged fur child. Canopy, as a “neighborhood-focused lifestyle brand”, is designed to appeal to upscale travelers. It’s described as having a more contemporary focus, with an emphasis on tech-friendliness and local services beyond the hotels themselves. You probably won’t see a Canopy at a suburban highway exit. Urban spaces with a lot of street life are their key geographic segment.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 12/2017

20 12 2017

Given how long this project seemed to be be stuck in post-approval financial purgatory, it still surprised me when I see construction underway at the Hilton Canopy hotel site on the 300 Block of East State Street.

One imagines that summer 2018 will be a construction nerd’s paradise, as cranes for City Centre, Harold’s Square and the Hilton will dot the city’s skyline, no doubt making their way into future TCAD imagery. But for now, it’s subsurface work. The Canopy is excavated, lagging, H-beams and steel tiebacks have been erected to hold the soil back, and wooden forms are being assembled for the concrete pours. Forms are typically plywood, sometimes aluminum or steel, and are braced to resist the pressure from the concrete as it is poured to make the foundation walls. For commercial buildings like the Canopy, stronger steel forms with plywood sheet ply are used. In this case, since the walls are quite tall, workers have installed brackets and scaffolds along the forms so that they can stand and work higher up on the walls. Specifically, I think it’s a Symons Steel-Ply Forming System that is being used.

The footprint of the site also has some less imposing wood forms that have been assembled, and interior to those some steel rebar has been laid, to add strength to the concrete as it cures. Some of the basement concrete slab has already been poured along the perimeter, and some is being readied for pours. The elevator shaft and north stairwell will occupy some of the footprint of where the rebar grid is in the second and third photos below. The basement will consist of storage rooms, utility space, a fuel room, laundry facilities, housekeeping office, main offices for hotel staff and back-end operations, restrooms and a breakroom. The smaller forms with the square outline on the south side of the site look to be about where the money counting room and/or data/communications room will be.

Note the light rigging onsite – December’s short daylight hours are no conducive for outdoor construction. Floodlamps are a way around that.





News Tidbits 10/7/17: Opportunities Come and Go

7 10 2017

1. The Inn at Taughannock expansion is no longer. The project, which called for a 2-story addition containing dining facilities, five guest rooms and facilities to support a 200-person capacity event center, was opposed by neighbors in Ulysses for being too large, the potential for noise, traffic, and for being out of character with the area. The strong disapproval played a big role in the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision to reject two of three building variances sought for the project, the exception being a cupola on the existing building. The board also permitted four of the six proposed signs.

With denials noted, the plan at this point is mostly landscaping – clean fill (soil) to level out the south lawn for gatherings, construction of a stone fence wall and retaining wall, re-configuring a stairway and patio area, lawn seeding and stormwater facilities.

2. One door is closed, another potentially opens. For sale, a trio of parcels – 526 West Seneca Street, 528 West Seneca Street, and 209 North Meadow Street – are up for sale on the city’s West End. The listing from Pyramid Brokerage’s August Monkemeyer is short and to the point:

“Rare opportunity on prime signalized intersection in Ithaca’s commercial corridor. Corner location with excellent exposure, road frontage and heavy traffic 32,000 plus ADDT. Redevelopment site for multiple commercial uses.”

For the record, ADDT is a typo. It’s AADT – “Average Annual Daily Traffic”. The brochure is a little more in-depth, and says 39,000 AADT. The listing price for the collection is $1.5 million.

528 West Seneca is a recently renovated early 1900s 4-unit apartment house purchased by current owner Shawn Gillespie in 2003 and it has an assessed value of $200,000. 528 West Seneca is an early 1900s house converted into an office building. It was renovated in the 2000s, purchased by Gillespie in 2012 and is assessed at $220,000. 209 North Meadow, an 1880s single-family home, has seen better days. It was co-purchased by Gillespie in 2015 and is assessed at $50,000 due to its poor condition. All of the buildings are designed in the older vernacular style common to the Ithaca area (“urban farmhouses”), so they’re old, but the designs were cookie cutter for their time, and their overall historic value is limited.

Zoning is a mixed bag. The two with frontage on Meadow are WEDZ-1b, while 526 West Seneca is R-3b. R-3b allows 4-story buildings with up to 40% lot coverage, has parking requirements that vary depending on the type of residence, and is geared towards small apartment buildings. WEDZ-1b is one of the city rarer codes, general retail and office uses that allows 100% lot coverage on parcel with less than 50 feet frontage (209 Meadow in this case), and 90% otherwise. However, the maximum floor height is only two floors, and one story buildings have to have pitched roofs. Unlike its WEDZ-1a counterpart across the street, parking is required. Looking at the code, it seems like a recipe for suburban box retail in the heart of the West End, with the R-3b a possible site for additional parking. That doesn’t seem to mesh with the urban mixed-use direction the city’s been moving towards. Should it sell, and it looks noteworthy, there will be a follow-up.

3. The construction loan for Nick Stavropoulos’ 107 South Albany Street project has been filed. Tompkins Trust will be able to watch their latest loan agreement from just a few blocks away. The total loan amount is $1,110,346.75. A small local company, Northeast Renovation Inc., will be the general contractor for the 11-unit apartment building.

Subcontractors on file include Frank Belentsof of Bestway Lumber (Excavation), Brian Kehoe of Kehoe’s Concrete Concepts for foundation work, Albanese Plumbing LLC for plumbing/HVAC/sprinklers, Weydman Electric, Goodale Sprayfoam for insulation, Joe Alpert of Drywall Interiors for sheetrock hanging. Fabbroni Engineers is doing the structural engineering in partnership with architect Daniel R. Hirtler.

4. The city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board was less than enthused about 311 College Avenue, aka Visum Development’s mixed-use Nines replacement. From the sound of it, the board’s John Schroeder was liable to go apoplectic. At the least, it seems the board wants a feasibility study for the cost of moving the firehouse-turned-restaurant to another site. From a design perspective, the board would like for either the design to pay homage to the Nines, or to reuse some of its building materials.

In contrast, it was fairly smooth sailing for the other projects under review. The duplex at 217 Columbia and Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive/affordable housing project were approved, and INHS’s 13-unit affordable housing proposal for the 200 Block of Elm Street progressed despite West Hill neighborhood opposition.

5. To touch on that topic a little more, the Times’ Nick Reynolds did an in-depth piece looking at the “crisis point” in Collegetown. It’s worth a read. I don’t agree with some of the insinuations (Student Agencies’ renovation of ca. 1985 409 College Avenue is not an aesthetic threat to the block), but it’s worth a read.

The document that Schroeder and Tomlan wrote of buildings they wanted preserved was uploaded as a PDF, but it is no longer online. The only copy of the list is from this blog, in a post eight years ago, and an article from the June 16, 2009 Ithaca Journal. The list and the response highlighted in the Journal shows there was a real disconnection, and I doubt most readers agreed completely with either Tomlan or the property owners. Since the PDF was published and reviewed by city staff and board appointees, two of 31 structures, the Snaith House (140 College) and Grandview House (209 College), were historically designated, and rightfully so, as exemplary architecture of their period. The Larkin was just designated as well, and the Chacona Block (Student Agencies) will be before the end of the year. Both of them are attractive older structures that provide a positive aesthetic complement to the neighborhood.

The Palms dive bar was not high design or even mediocre design, nor was it much of a desired neighborhood attribute, at least to permanent residents; nostalgic perhaps, but not historic. Pushing a structure on nostalgia alone will likely not clear the Planning Committee, as Steve Smith and Cynthia Brock nearly demonstrated with the Larkin Building. Mary Tomlan wanted to preserve a bar when the owner wanted to retire and sell it to whoever would give him the most. Sounds familiar.

However, the difference between the Palms and the Nines is that the Nines has a more substantial history, the structure has historic significance as the original home of Fire Station No .9. With its outdoor patio, it adds an aesthetic quality by being setback from the street yet maintaining active use frontage. That is not economically feasible in Collegetown and hasn’t been for decades, but it made sense for a fire station that served the community for generations. If there’s a balance between giving way to the new and preserving the old, the Nines and Palms fall on different sides.

The Times article references a “stopgap” measure that is basically an indefinite moratorium. That’s not the answer either. Most Collegetown structures offer little historic value. The Nines is a rare case otherwise. Without protective regulations, it was always a potential development target. Or rather, it was more like a landmine waiting to be triggered.

6. Courtesy of STREAM Collaborative’s biannual newsletter, the Varna Tiny Timbers project has a name and website. “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, as the 15-unit single-family development will be known, has website at http://www.cottagesatfallcreek.com. It’s bare bones at the moment and the lots have not yet begun marketing and sales. The pocket neighborhood of for-sale 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom homes will be built on the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads, the potential walkable, mixed-use center of the hamlet should a traditionally-designed Varna ever come to fruition. According to the newsletter, STREAM collaborated with Tiny Timber owner Buzz Dolph on the branding, logo and website, as well as on the design of the buildings and landscape.

7. It pains me a bit to admit this, but the Times is killing it in local meeting coverage. Even worse, the Voice has been short-staffed this week due to illness. At the Common Council meeting last night, members voted to give the IURA the necessary permission to handle the Green Street redevelopment project, including the RFP and submission review, sales terms and environmental review. Vicki Taylor Brous, public relations representative for developer Dave Lubin and his Harold’s Square project next door, spoke against the plans and said the project may be illegal, but until proven as such, review and discussion of the Ithaca Associates plan and any other submissions will move forward.

On another note, landmarking of the Larkin Building at 403 College Avenue was approved 8-2, with Cynthia Brock (D-1st) and Steve Smith (D-4th) opposed. Also, in what can only help Lansing Republicans, the city voted to join in on the Article 78 to halt the Cargill project until an Environment Impact Statement is conducted. The DEC deemed it unncecessary, and the lawsuit argues Cargill got special treatment. The dicey part is that a long, expensive study puts 200 blue-collar jobs at risk, and the debate has become a successful rallying cry for local conservatives.

I’m not a political consultant, but I think if outspoken Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) loses next month, it’ll be because of the national environment and the ability of progressive groups to tap into that at the local level. And if he wins, it’ll be because he channeled and won over the blue-collar Cargill households and their supporters who feel overlooked or kicked around in this debate.

8. One of the the perks of development – the latest Ithaca city budget calls for no tax increase for the 95% of homeowners whose assessment did not go up this year (not because of the market, but because the assessment office cycles through different parts of the county on 2-3 year intervals). The city will bring in an extra $621,508 (2.8%) through property taxes, mostly from new development “closing” on assessments as they’re completed and occupied. From 2012 to 2016, the budget increased 5.2%, while taxes, notoriously high thanks to the large percentage of tax-exempt property, fell 1%. In his budget presentation (copy on the Times webpage here), Myrick stated that without the $131 million in development since 2011, taxes would be 6.9% higher.

One thing that is not made clear in the article is that Collegetown Terrace, one of those big contributors, doesn’t have a tax abatement or PILOT. That’s taxed at 100% value. According to assessor Jay Franklin, assessments for a given year are calculated for the state of a property on March 1st, and in Terrace’s case, Building 7 wasn’t finished. Now that it is, it can be assessed at full value for 2018, which will be an additional $20-$25 million in taxable property (using $22.5 million, it equates to $270,900 in city taxes, given $12.04 per $1,000 assessed).

That might be the biggest addition, but other recent completions are not inconsequential. Back of the envelope estimates here, but when the Breazzano Center and INHS 210 Hancock PILOTs first show up in 2018, they will generate an additional $52,000. Even with its abatement, the Hotel Ithaca will add about $21,600 in year one if its $15 million price tag is close to assessment, and that will increase to $216,000/year after seven years (the downtown Business Improvement District tax rate is $14.40/$1,000). Several other recently-completed downtown projects will also pay more as their abatements taper towards full property value. For example, just the 10% increase for the Marriott in 2018 equates to about $29,000. Smaller projects like 607 South Aurora, 1001 North Aurora, 602 West State, 215-221 West Spencer and 123-129 Elmira stand to add another $70,000 or so in tax revenue. So all these projects not only make a dent in the housing deficit or provide jobs, they also provide a buffer to challenging times with declining state assistance. While development does increase demand for services, projects that are close to municipal services and able to easily tap into existing infrastructure generally provide a net positive financial benefit to the community.

Meanwhile, the town of Ithaca is looking at a miniscule tax increase this year of 0.21 percent (1.57 cents per $1,000), and will benefit from the Maplewood project, which at $80 million and $6.66/1,000, will pay in the ballpark of $532,000 towards the town, its highway department and the inter-municipal fire department (the city also gets a small share, only 1-2%).

9. A couple of sales of note. A 28.07 parcel of land along Oakcrest Road in Lansing, which was touted for potential suburban housing development, was sold for $610,000 to a well-known Cornell professor and his wife. The price was a little over 90% of ask, not bad for land. From a close mutual friend, real estate development is not one of the buyer’s interests. So, less likely to be a development, but maybe a grand estate.

Meanwhile, south of the Shannon Park development, and on the southern edge of the image above, an LLC paid $480,000, slightly below assessment, for 731 Cayuga Heights Road, a well-maintained 1820 farmhouse on 12.55 acres. The LLC’s address is the same as the Pyramid Companies, owners (or recent sellers?) of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall, which the land abuts to its east. Something to keep an eye on, for sure.

 

10. Looking like a slow week and month ahead. The city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is reviewing a roofing project. Nothing new in the city project’s memo, though some supplemental documents were added for Bridges Cornell Heights’ 16-bedroom mansion proposed at 105 Dearborn Place. It and INHS’s 203-209 Elm Street plan are up for final approval at the end of the month, potentially leaving no projects for review before the city (311 College will be discussed, but not reviewed this month, and its future progress is uncertain). The town’s planning board meeting was cancelled.





News Tidbits 7/8/17: Watching the Fireworks

8 07 2017

1. A pair of major downtown projects are starting to get a move on site-prep and demolition. The Trebloc Building has been torn down to make way for the 187,000 SF, $32.9 million City Centre project.

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

For a bit of historical perspective, the Trebloc Building was a sort of monument to municipal desperation. Up until 1967, the site housed several 2-5 story buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then along came urban renewal. The city had made plans to demolish the buildings and sell the lot to a bank tenant, who would build a new office and help revitalize the city’s run-down downtown. But after demolishing the building, the potential bank tenant never followed through on its original intent, and the city spend years trying to sell the lot, which was used for makeshift parking in the interim. Finally, they found a buyer in the Colbert Family doing business as the Trebloc Development Company. The Trebloc Building was originally planned to have two floors, but financial troubles had reduced it to one before it finally opened for business in 1974.

One could argue that nothing quite represented the nadir of Ithaca’s downtown quite like the struggling, unloved and unlovely Trebloc Building did. There are some buildings worth fighting for, and even some mediocre ones that come down with a bittersweet sentiment. This was neither.

Perhaps unhappily for downtown businesses, City Centre will be under construction for quite some time; adjusting the estimate given to the IDA, late 2019 or even early 2020 is possible.

Meanwhile, just a couple blocks west, Harold’s Square is also gearing up for demolition of 123-135 East State Street. Unlike the Trebloc teardown, Developer David Lubin will be deconstructing the existing structures, so that their components can be re-used (the process will be managed by Finger Lake Re-Use). I’ve always been kinda partial to the green tile on the former Race Office Supply, so hopefully that goes to a good home. 137-139 East State will be renovated as part of the Harold’s Square project. Harold’s Square, a 180,000 SF building with a hard construction cost of $32.6 million, is expected to take about 18 months, opening in Q1 2019. Dunno why City Centre’s construction schedule is a year longer, although with the underground garage, the project is a little larger (211,200 SF), and more structurally complex. It could also just be a very generous estimate.

2. Tompkins County will be hosting a meeting at the Museum of the Earth on July 19th at 7:30 PM to discuss plans for the Biggs Parcel on the town of Ithaca’s portion of West Hill. As covered previously, the 25.5 acre parcel, which has something of a long news history, has been for sale since last summer, but without any firm offers, the county ended its realtor contract and has been trying to figure out with to do with the property. Although there are some streams and wetlands, there are some development possibilities; neighbors have been pushing for it to be a county-owned natural preserve, but the county wants an option that will pay taxes, whether that be a multi-family development, private estate or otherwise.

While the county did not identify this parcel as a high environmental protection priority, they are busy working with Finger Lakes Land Trust to protect a 125-acre property in Caroline, and there are ongoing discussions regarding a 324-acre property in Dryden.

3. As with nearly every sizable project in Tompkins County, the Inn at Taughannock expansion is being met with some resistance from neighbors. As relayed by the Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, arguments cited include traffic, view sheds, size, neighborhood character (which seems a bit weird, given there’s not much of a neighborhood nearby), and most frequently, noise, which the town could help resolve by asking for an acoustical counsultant’s report like what Ben Rosenblum submitted in Ithaca for his cancelled proposal for a jazz bar at 418 East State Street. The addition, which calls for a new restaurant, event space and five guest rooms, would create about 25 jobs if built and opened as planned. The often-joked but actually rarely-seen email calling me a “thoughtless corporatist” arrived in the inbox after the first write-up, which indicates this fireworks show may not be over for a little while.

4. In a bit of a weird hang-up, the Heritage Center project attempted to give itself a formal name, but the name was shot down by the County Legislature. The proposed moniker of “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was defeated in a 7 yes -3 no vote (8 yes votes required) because a few of the legislators felt there hadn’t been enough time to gauge community reaction. Personally, I thought “Tompkins County Heritage Center” was fine, but to each their own.

5. Thankfully, the county’s endorsement of the Housing Strategy was unanimous. This is but a baby step in solving the county’s housing woes, but it’s an important step. The county now has a sort of guiding document to help address issues in adding and improving the local housing stock.

There are a few key things that the county will need to adhere to when moving forward. First is working with communities to identify suitable areas for development, and making updates to infrastructure and zoning to guide developers towards those properties instead of far-flung, natural areas where acquisition costs are low and there are fewer neighbors to contend with. Second is bridging the affordability gap – some of this can be done by encouraging new housing at market-rate, but the county will need to be constructively engaging and reliable when helping affordable housing plans apply for grants or exploring tax incentives to help make their proposals feasible.

The third, and arguably the most controversial point here, is standing firm in the face of opposition. Many Tompkins residents are averse to new housing (or really, new anything) near them. For example, consider the Tiny Timbers plan recently announced for Lansing Town Center. The plan checks a lot of boxes – at $175-$225k, it’s fairly affordable owner-occupied new housing, with a smaller ecological footprint than many detached single-family homes. Yet, in the Voice comments, it was dumped on as both a glorified trailer park and unaffordable at the same time, and the neighbor who tried and failed to buy the property from the town to prevent development was trying to scare people from small house living (which at 1000-1500 SF, these aren’t really “tiny” houses anyway). The county should listen for the sake of good government, but after weighing the argument, unless a project is truly a detriment to a community’s quality of life, the county and local boards will need a firm backbone in withstanding criticism. It also helps if people who like a project give their two cents in an email or meeting.

So, good first step, but there’s a lot of work ahead. Fingers crossed.





Hotel Ithaca Construction Update, 6/2017

21 06 2017

This project isn’t 100% complete – some stone veneer still needs to be applied, and the landscaping needs to be seeded – but for practical purposes, the new wing is ready for occupancy and this project is done. The first hotel guests in the new wing are unpacking their bags this month, and already there are chairs out on the balconies. The project began in March 2016, which gives a period of about 15 months from launch to opening. Interior and balcony photos can be found on The Hotel Ithaca’s twitter account.

As a project, it’s not inspiring architecture, and rather than market growth, it’s more about keeping the Hotel Ithaca successful in Ithaca’s upward trending downtown market. But it adds a few jobs, it’s a $15 million investment, and it demonstrates strong, sustained support for Ithaca’s leisure and hospitality market.

Hart Hotels of Buffalo, founded by David Hart in 1985 and operating locally under the name Lenroc L.P., was the project developer. Krog Corporation, also of Buffalo and a favorite of Hart Hotels, was the general contractor. NH Architecture of Rochester, another frequent partner of Hart Hotels, was the project architect. NH Architecture is rather busy lately, as architect for both Dryden’s Poet’s Landing, and Lansing’s Cayuga View Senior Housing.

Side note – I’ve heard through the rumor mill that the owners of the Sunoco next door have been offered very lucrative sums to sell their gas station, as it’s on a choice corner for development close to the Commons, and allows a 100-foot tall building. But alas, the owners have had no interest in selling.